Mt. Everest Climber Helps Ukrainian Brand ‘Go Up!’

On the surface, One by One’s new campaign featuring accomplished climber Irina Galay looks like another wintry scene, but its completion required overcoming extreme circumstances.

Galay, the first Ukrainian female to summit Mt. Everest and K2, was recruited to headline the campaign as a means to motivate people to overcome their personal peaks. In addition to braving subzero temperatures in a snowy Ukrainian forest for the photo shoot, the creative team had to drive a few hours outside of Kyiv and pass through Bucha and other cities that were decimated by the Russian forces.

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During a joint interview Thursday afternoon with her boyfriend Yuri Bauer, who helped to translate some of her responses, Galay said “the tragedy of the past” was quite evident, and she cried en route. Despite the frigid weather and lack of heat, electricity, cell service and internet connection, the One by One team pulled off the photo shoot, driven by their motivation to support their country. Denys Manokha handled the photography and art direction.

“That’s how Ukrainians are at the moment — they are all united. It doesn’t matter how cold or how hard it gets, or how many tragedies follow you. You put yourself together for a photo shoot — or whatever it is you have to do,” Bauer said. “Supporting the country [through the economy] gives people jobs and some money to people.”

Having ascended Mt. Everest in 2016 and K2 in 2021, the 34-year-old has climbed more than 10 of the world’s tallest peaks. Stating that essentially all of her achievements are worthless, Galay said what she really values and respects now is the Ukrainian army and everyone who is fighting for the country. “You have people from normal professions, who went to fight on the front and are really actively involved. They are the heroes. If you compare that to Everest or K2, it seems to be not an achievement at all.”

Galay became the first Ukrainian female to summit Mt. Everest in 2016.
Galay became the first Ukrainian female to summit Mt. Everest in 2016.

Like millions of other Ukrainians, she is focused on building up her business ventures — as Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky and his wife Olena Zelenska have repeatedly encouraged residents to do everything they can to try to bolster the economy.

For Galay, that has meant teaming with One by One and developing a collagen sport supplements product for Dermacolla. Her interest in fashion isn’t just about style but is more about supporting Ukrainian designers to help propel them onto the worldwide stage. The prints that are featured in the new line include one with motifs of the embroidered shirts of Transcarpathia, the region where Galay is from. Aside from pitching in with design and the concept, she used her knowledge about warmth — from years of climbing and skiing — to ensure wearers can withstand the elements.

The One by One campaign’s “Go Up!” slogan is meant to help rally Ukrainians’ opposition to Russia’s propaganda, aggression and regime. It is also meant to be one of “not giving up, and looking toward the future no matter how hard this particular moment is now,” Bauer said. “We have a lot of friends who own restaurants. They probably should have closed them and run away to try to enjoy their life elsewhere. Before people were fleeing for the States, Canada, Europe or wherever. Now you have people who are still trying and fighting for their professions and talents. That’s motivating and uplifting. That’s what they have tried to do with the One by One [collaborative] collection.”

While European governments have been supportive of Ukraine’s efforts to fend off the Russian military, Galay acknowledged some European citizens may be questioning increasing energy costs and other essentials as a result of the war. Galay speculated that some might not understand how the Ukrainians are fighting for freedom and democracy throughout the world. “It’s a hard question because we do feel a lot of support. We are glad and thankful for that.”

Immediately after Russian forces invaded her homeland, she served in the Ukrainian military for four or five months. Having attended an aviation university in Kyiv and studied the decoding of flight recorders, more commonly known as black boxes, Galay put those skills to use for the military last year after temporarily relocating to her hometown Mukachevo in western Ukraine. She and Bauer continue to travel intermittently due partially to intermittent electricity in Ukraine. But they have kept their apartment in central Kyiv. Noting how blackouts tend to last for only a few hours or a maximum of a few days, they had rockets explode within a few blocks of their apartment on October. They noted how hours later they randomly met the American ambassador to Ukraine and exchanged messages of support.

Irina Galay and the creative team endured extreme circumstances to complete the shoot.
Irina Galay in the new campaign.

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